Measure for Measure, by William Shakespeare
Runs: 2h 45m: one interval: till 7 March
The RSC at the top of its game
As soon as this Measure for Measure begins, we know we’re in circa 1900 upper-echelon Vienna: all immaculate military uniforms, sumptuous dresses – and the waltz, danced to live music coming from the top of a simple yet attractively reflecting set. (Music in this production is wonderful throughout). But soon we’re plonked into the underside of the same city, a chaotic street scene where the major theme is gloriously explicit – in both societies sexual debauchery in all its forms rules OK.
But only up to a point. For sure, hypocrisy and skulduggery in places high and low are winning, but the mercy/justice conundrum is also raked over almost as thoroughly as it is in The Merchant of Venice – it’s a fascinating evening.
Some of the laughs in this sometimes harrowing and darkly comedic play (so dark it’s often not regarded as comedy at all) come from a host of low-lifers, brilliantly done by, for instance, Joseph Arkley (engaging town rake Lucio), Graeme Brookes (an outrageous Mistress Overdone), and David Ajao as Pompey, Mistress Overdone’s pimp. Shakespeare’s too frequent resort to the verbal quibble can be irritating, but Ajao handles it splendidly.
The best laughs, however, as well as the most obviously fine acting, are generated by Antony Byrne as the Duke, Sandy Grierson as Angelo, strangely Putin-like in appearance, and Lucy Phelps as Isabella. In one of the big/small roles there’s also Amanda Harris as the Provost.
With his spot-on timing, wily glances at the audience, and double takes Byrne would be a shoo-in for outright farce. And even by the standards of this production his text delivery is outstanding. Grierson is in turn inadequate and servile, mock dictatorial, and lascivious creep. He and Phelps are terrific in the disturbingly realistic scene where she spurns his clammy paws.
Directed by Gregory Doran, this is the RSC at the top of its game.
The Duke: Antony Byrne
Angelo: Sandy Grierson
Escalus: Claire Price
Claudio: James Clooney
Juliet: Amy Trigg
Isabella: Lucy Phelps
Lucio: Joseph Arkley
Froth: Tom Dawze
Mistress Overdone/Barnadine: Graeme Brookes
Pompey: David Ajao
Elbow: Michael Patrick
Provost: Amanda Harris
Abhorson/Friar Thomas: Patrick Brennan
Mariana: Sophie Khan Levy
Kate Keepdown: Melody Brown
Sister Francisca: Karina Jones
Angelo’s Secretary/Sister: Hannah Azuonye
Gentleman: Alexander Mushore
Director: Gregory Doran
Designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis
Lighting Designer: Simon Spencer
Composer: Paul Englishby
Sound Designer: Steven Atkinson
Movement Director: Lucy Cullingford
Fight Directors: Rachel Bown-Williams/Ruth Cooper-Brown